There are many strings to Richard Cawood’s bow. He shares with us his story of practicing law, becoming an entrepreneur and giving back.
Sharing insights from success
Alumnus Richard Cawood graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1988. He left New Zealand with warm memories from his time in a cold Wellington and launched into a varied career in the United Kingdom and United States. Richard shares his thoughts on his career practising law, then developing successful businesses and how he’s now giving back to students in Wellington, as well as a charity in his local community.
What appealed to you about studying law at Victoria University of Wellington?
The small class numbers, low tuition cost and the quality of the law professors. When I studied to qualify for the High Court of United Kingdom and for the New York Bar I realized how well prepared I was from my superb Victoria University of Wellington law education.
After graduating, I worked at a firm now called DLA Philips Fox specializing in corporate law. After a few years in Wellington my wife and I relocated to London to practice law.
I qualified as United Kingdom solicitor and worked as in-house counsel for a Family Office who managed a variety of international investments. That position involved intensive international travel especially to the United States and Asia.
My business network flourished and offered unique opportunities if I relocated to live in America. I qualified for the New York Bar and started my own law firm in New York specializing in international taxation and corporate finance.
How did you make the transition to entrepreneurship?
In 1995, my wife and I relocated from New York to California as we wanted to live on the West Coast of the United States. I decided that instead of studying immediately for the California Bar I would try a business idea. The idea translated into a successful multinational group of companies, Optionetics Inc, a company specialising in financial educational products (particularly options, stocks, foreign exchange and futures trading), and 18 years later we sold out to major US public company.
As a successful entrepreneur, what advice do you have for students who might be interested in starting their own business?
Before you start your own business, gain knowledge and experience working in the field that interests you. You will be exposed to mentors, contractual negotiation, corporate strategy and financial decisions that will assist you later when you face those same situations in your own business.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I started my legal training working for a brilliant solicitor, John Strahl, at what is now DLA Phillips Fox. He drilled into me many concepts that I have used in my business career, including no excuses always get a result—action speaks louder than words; only talk when you have knowledge; silence is a powerful negotiation tactic and never fight a battle that you can’t win.
In addition to your work, you’re a mentor in the Alumni as Mentors programme. Why did you decide to join the programme?
I joined to help a graduate discover a successful path into business. My experience has been superb—my first mentee received multiple job offers and was sent overseas to train. It was a very successful outcome for an amazing young man. I am very proud to be able to help support his career.
We have a unique opportunity to give back to a new graduate that can use our experience and guidance to succeed entering the workforce. I mentor in thanks to all those incredible people that generously supported my career. I will be forever grateful for the inspiration and guidance provided by my professors at VUW. Professor Bill Atkins gave me so much support, instilling that with hard work anything is possible. Professor David McLauchlan challenged me in contract law; "was I really good enough to be a lawyer?”. You carry those lessons through life, they become cornerstones of who you become.
As well as Alumni as Mentors, you’re also involved in other charity work. Can you share some more about this?
After enjoying a successful legal and business career, I started searching for what else…what next? We live in Santa Rosa, California which is a city about an hour north of San Francisco in the Wine Country. Coincidentally, it is also has the campus for the National Headquarters for Canine Companions for Independence, an organisation that provides free service dogs for the disabled.
I realised that I could combine my professional skills with my passion for dogs to help this charity. The CCI dogs are described as ‘miracles in the making to provide support for people with disabilities’. I volunteer assisting with business development projects and at home we train puppies from the age of eight weeks. After 18 months of training we return the dogs to the training centre for six months of advanced training before placement with their recipient. The experience of meeting the recipients of these dogs and seeing how their lives are enhanced is rewarding beyond words.